It’s the end of the world, and we get the feeling that it won’t be followed by Humungus and Bartertown. If this is the end of civilization and humanity, it’s going out with a bang.

I’d like to know what the first movie of this kind was, where an ensemble cast of characters is broken down into vignette bits, going their own ways and interacting only infrequently. I’d like to know because I really dislike the style — not on principle or because the premise is necessarily bad, but from experience. A movie called Franklyn, which like Last Night, was also independent, revels in this style, but to anti-climactic ends despite an intriguing premise. The style, it seemed, was the artistic goal. The audience is sort of left in the cold here because clever storytelling may be nice, but exists in ineffectual space without dramatic beats. For stories in this line, it’s the intersections that count and provide the key moments to shift the narrative forward.

Last Night is rather unlike Franklyn, where characters have interesting storylines in themselves, but those that don’t come to their full potential until they merge. The film feels somewhat meandering during its initial stages, when we’re cutting between characters and getting bogged down by cynicism and the appropriately bleak nature of the environment, but as it reaches the second half, the drama comes to a head, and Last Night becomes one of the most compelling movies of its breed.

The cynicism nearly plagues the first half, making Last Night one hell of a depressing ride. The movie progresses, and depressing morphs into tragedy, as humanity is born — despite, or perhaps because of the situation — within the interweaving character arcs. Sandra (Sandra Oh) hooks up with the main character Patrick Wheeler (Don McKellar, who also directs) and they discuss the very subject of humanity, and Patrick’s friend Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) his own end of the world plan, which dovetails into the most shocking and touching moment in the film.

These moments offer the most heartwarming and small but significant moments, and because we are now warmed to the characters, the apocalypse — oh that thing — becomes haunting. This is of course how all movies are suppose to work, where we care about characters before they die, but of course, that’s only the theory. It’s easy to ‘decide’ that these moments offer the most heartwarming moments because for me, they’ve brought me closer to tears than any other movie, and the segment that doesn’t overlap with others — David Cronenberg’s — is the weakest. This is ironic, as he is the key reason I watched this movie. Cronenberg is a very good actor, though he seems to be playing David Cronenberg here, a thoughtful, soft-spoken Canadian, and it sucks that this is one of his few roles, barring cameos in The Fly and Dead Ringers as gynaecologists.

Cronenberg plays Duncan, Sandra’s husband. Sandra is journeying across town to meet up with him, as they’ve promised to shoot each other at midnight, for the world isn’t going to take their lives. This job eventually falls to Patrick, who was content to go out drinking wine in his backyard and staying as far from his family as possible. Patrick vows to help Sandra reach Duncan, and in doing so approaches Craig for his car. Because Sandra is kept apart from Duncan, Duncan is kept apart from Patrick and Craig and Sandra. He occupies his own space, and the moments he has are precious if only because he’s David Cronenberg. If one doesn’t know of or care about David Cronenberg, Duncan might seem pretty boring in a movie that is admittedly, slowly paced.

Don McKellar’s debut feature film may just be the best movie to see this year, 2012. It isn’t so much about the Strange Days rioting, which occurs mostly in the background, but the quiet touches of humanity that allow civilization a rather civilized exit, and colors only the rarest and best in science-fiction drama.

Advertisements